Apprenticeships, Ofsted

Ofsted to hit England’s largest apprenticeship provider with grade 3

Quality concerns found at Lifetime Training, which delivers to big-name employers and the civil service

Quality concerns found at Lifetime Training, which delivers to big-name employers and the civil service

30 Jun 2022, 12:00

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England’s largest apprenticeship provider is set to be slammed by Ofsted for failing to deliver high quality teaching and enough off-the-job training, FE Week can reveal.

Lifetime Training will be downgraded from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’ in a critical report due to be published tomorrow by the education watchdog (full story here).

The firm has recruited more apprentices and secured more levy funding than any other provider in the country for several years, delivering to big-name employers including the NHS, KFC, McDonalds, Wetherspoons, B&Q and David Lloyd, as well as the civil service.

But Lifetime’s overall achievement rates have been falling steadily: in 2015/16 the provider recorded an overall apprenticeship achievement of 67.6 per cent, which declined to 55.3 per cent in the latest available provider-level achievement rate tables for 2018/19.

Lifetime’s most popular apprenticeship in 2018/19 was hospitality team member, delivered to 2,230 apprentices, and recorded a 34 per cent achievement rate.

FE Week understands that Ofsted sent around 30 inspectors to Lifetime Training in May for its first full inspection since 2012 and found a range of quality concerns, resulting in an overall grade 3.

The biggest issue was proving that at least 20 per cent off-the-job training was being delivered to apprentices mostly in the hospitality and care sectors.

FE Week understands that Lifetime Training requested and secured an extra day’s inspection after complaining that Ofsted’s sample of apprentices was not large enough to reflect the size of the company – a defence that was unsuccessfully used by Learndirect during its failed High Court battle with the inspectorate that attempted to overturn a grade 4 report in 2017.

Ofsted agreed to increase its sample size for Lifetime Training but stood by the grade 3.

A spokesperson for Lifetime Training told FE Week that Ofsted’s grade and the evidence used during the inspection was not appealed.

The report is due to be published in the same week that skills minister Alex Burghart and Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman raised concerns about the quality of apprenticeship training and poor achievement rates, which Spielman said are damaging the prestige and brand of apprenticeships.

Carl Cornish, Lifetime’s new chief operating officer, blamed the off-the-job issue on the pandemic.

“Due to the challenges brought by the pandemic, many of our employer partners have experienced increased staff turnover rates and high sickness and absence – particularly in the hospitality and care sectors,” he told FE Week.

“This has contributed to an unexpected number of apprentices not getting their entitlement to high-quality off-the-job training during working hours, which was one of the key areas identified by Ofsted.”

He claimed that despite the overall grading, “many positives” were identified through the inspection. A “highlight” was the “relationship between our learners and coaches and the impact our apprenticeship programmes have, with many apprentices making a positive contribution to their workplace through the skills they have developed, which our employer partners highly value”.

Lifetime Training has made several leadership changes in recent months. Geoff Russell (pictured above left), who used to head up the Skills Funding Agency, became the firm’s new chair in April. Since then, Lifetime’s long-serving chief executive Alex Khan, chief financial officer Peter Mitchell, and chief commercial officer Sean Cosgrove have left.

Jon Graham (pictured above right) is now Lifetime’s chief executive after joining from JTL Training.

Lifetime Training was put up for sale in 2019 by its private equity parent Silverfleet Capital. But the auction was put on ice during the pandemic.

The provider has sat top of the apprenticeship provider table when it comes to starts for a number of years. But recruitment has fallen significantly.

The provider recorded 20,170 starts in 2017/18, which grew to 23,020 a year later, before falling by more than a third to 14,980 in 2019/20. In 2020/21 Lifetime had 12,910 starts and figures for the first two quarters of 2021/22 show 6,990 starts. The falling starts numbers led to large-scale redundancies in 2020.

Lifetime has also topped the list of providers who receive the most funding from apprenticeship levy paying employers. It was paid £51.5 million in 2018/19, £50.6 million in 2019 20, and £43.3 million in 2020/21.

Cornish said Lifetime was “disappointed” with the Ofsted outcome, but insisted the provider has “already started working on a detailed improvement plan against the recommendations and progress against this plan will be our key focus”.

“The majority of the actions required to deliver these improvements are already in flight or at launch stage,” he added. “We have already taken steps to address the feedback and are confident we will see a rapid and significant improvement in the areas identified during this inspection.”

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  1. None of your business

    Pathetic, was it a slow news day? Lifetime is a fantastic company who have faced an unfortunate couple of Years due to the pandemic. How about you stop with criticism and judgement and you actually start to support them. Ofsted gave some amazing feedback, didn’t write about that though did you? Oh and just so you know Lifetime is now on the way back up and will be better than ever!

  2. Be Kind

    This does not take away from all the hard work that Lifetime Training do, they will make the improvements needed and come out of this better than before.

  3. David M

    I don’t think there is any doubt people work hard at Lifetime, but the pandemic has been used heavily as rationale but 18/19 was pre-pandemic and just over half of learners achieved. Leans to a fundamental issue in leadership. That is simply not good enough for the apprentices or their future. That also equates to around £20m of public funding used that did not result in achievement, a valid point for FE Week to highlight.

    • Sophie Phillips

      Lifetime deliver in sectors where staff attrition exceeds 120% – so their success rates in the industries they work in, delivering Level 2’s are incredible.

  4. Realistic View of the Care Sector

    Unfortunately, this is further evidence of the challenges with OTJ provision. If the ESFA would visit sites within the Care sector and ask employers how easy it is to take a carer off the floor for a day a week to learn new knowledge, skills and behaviours, they would be laughed out of the building. In this sector, service users will always come first and as well they should. Staff ratios are down and supporting the vulnerable takes priority. People claim the pandemic is being overused as an excuse, but ask the learners that are burnt out from working double shifts that have now left the industry to repair their physical and mental health.

    I cannot speak for all sectors, but where will Ofsted draw the line with OTJ? If a provider has engaged with an employer and discussed the requirement, yet month after month they do not provide it due to staff ratios and evidence of escalation procedures have been documented, when will employers be held accountable? Where OTJ is not supported by the employer, is the learner to be removed from programme? Because if they are, success rates will continue to fall and this problem will not go away anytime soon.